The F.I.T.T. Principle for an Effective Workout

Change these elements to achieve new fitness goals

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FITT Principle
Verywell / Joshua Seong

What Is F.I.T.T.?

Understanding the F.I.T.T. principle helps you create a workout plan that will be more effective in reaching your fitness goals. F.I.T.T. stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise. These are the four elements you need to think about to create workouts that fit your goals and fitness level. Learn how the F.I.T.T. principle works.


Watch Now: How to Use F.I.T.T. In Your Workouts


The first thing to set up with your workout plan is frequency—how often you will exercise. Your frequency often depends on a variety of factors including the type of workout you're doing, how hard you're working, your fitness level, and your exercise goals.

In general, the exercise guidelines set out by the American College of Sports Medicine give you a place to start when figuring out how often to work out for both cardio and strength training.

Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts are usually scheduled more often. Depending on your goal, guidelines recommend moderate exercise five or more days a week or intense cardio three days a week to improve your health.

If you want to lose weight, you'll want to work up to more frequent workouts, often up to six or more days a week.

Strength Training

The recommended frequency for strength training is two to three non-consecutive days a week. You should have at least one to two days between sessions.

Your frequency, however, will often depend on the workouts you're doing, because you want to work your muscles at least two times a week. If you do a split routine, like upper body one day and lower body the next, your workouts will be more frequent than total body workouts.


Intensity has to do with how hard you work during exercise. How you can change the intensity depends on the type of workout you're doing.

Cardio Workouts

There are different ways that you can measure your workout intensity. For cardio, you will usually monitor intensity by heart rate, perceived exertion, the talk test, a heart rate monitor, or a combination of those measures.

The general recommendation is to work at a moderate intensity for steady-state workouts. Interval training is done at a high intensity for a shorter period of time. It's a good idea to have a mixture of low, medium, and high-intensity cardio exercises so you stimulate different energy systems and avoid overtraining.

Strength Training

Monitoring the intensity of strength training involves a different set of parameters. Your intensity is made up of the exercises you do, the amount of weight you lift, and the number of reps and sets you do. The intensity can change based on your goals.

  • If you are a beginner looking to build muscle stability and endurance, use a lighter weight and do fewer sets with high repetitions: two or three sets of 12 to 20 reps.
  • If your goal is to grow muscle, do a higher number of sets with a moderate amount of repetitions (for instance, four sets of 10 to 12 reps each).
  • If you want to build strength, use heavy weights to do a more sets with fewer reps (five sets of three reps each, for example).


The next element of your workout plan is how long you exercise during each session. There isn't one set rule for how long you should exercise, and it will typically depend on your fitness level and the type of workout you're doing.

Cardio Workouts

The exercise guidelines that suggest 30 to 60 minutes of cardio but the duration of your workout depends on what you're doing.

If you're a beginner, you might start with a workout of 15 to 20 minutes. If you're doing steady-state cardio, such as going for a run or getting on a cardio machine, you might exercise for 30 to 60 minutes. If you're doing interval training and working at a very high intensity, your workout will be shorter, around 20 to 30 minutes.

Having a variety of workouts of different intensities and durations will give you a solid, balanced cardio program.

Strength Training

How long you lift weights will also depend on the type of workout you're doing and your schedule. For example, a total body workout could take up to an hour, whereas a split routine could take less time because you're working fewer muscle groups.


The type of exercise you do is the last part of the F.I.T.T. principle and an easy one to manipulate to avoid overuse injuries or weight loss plateaus.

Cardio Workouts

Cardio is easy to change, since any activity that gets your heart rate up counts. Running, walking, cycling, dancing, and the elliptical trainer are some of the wide variety of activities you can choose.

Having more than one go-to cardio activity is the best way to reduce boredom, and your body needs variability along with progressive overload.

Strength Training

Strength training workouts can also offer variety. They include any exercise where you're using some type of resistance (bands, dumbbells, machines, etc.) to work your muscles. Bodyweight exercises can also be considered a form of strength training.

You can easily change the type of strength workouts you do, from total body training to adding things like supersets or pyramid training to liven things up.

How to Use F.I.T.T.

The F.I.T.T. principle outlines how to manipulate your program to get in shape and get better results. It also helps you figure out how to change your workouts to avoid boredom, overuse injuries, and weight loss plateaus.

For example, walking three times a week for 30 minutes at a moderate pace might be a great place for a beginner to start. After a few weeks, however, your body adapts to these workouts and several things may happen:

  • You burn fewer calories: The more you workout, the easier it is to do the exercises because your body becomes more efficient.
  • Weight loss stalls: Your new workouts may lead to weight loss, but when you weigh less, you expend fewer calories moving your now-smaller body.
  • Boredom sets in: Doing the same workout for weeks or months on end can get old, eating into your motivation to exercise.

It's at this point you want to manipulate one or more of the F.I.T.T. principles, such as:

  • Changing the frequency by adding another day of walking
  • Changing the intensity by walking faster or adding some running intervals
  • Changing the time spent walking each workout day
  • Changing the type of workout by swimming, cycling, or running.

Even just changing one of these elements can make a big difference in your workout and in how your body responds to exercise. It's important to change things up on a regular basis to keep your body healthy and your mind engaged.

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  1. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: Guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(7):1334-59. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb

  2. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Determination of resistance training frequency. May 2017.